I am really not very good with conversions. With great apologies to many wonderful math and science teachers over the years, I can’t for the life of me remember the formula to convert kilometers to miles. Every single time, I have to look up how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, kilograms to pounds, or liters to ounces.
Just this last weekend, I spent some time cleaning and reorganizing my workshop at home. It took me more than half an hour to organize my socket wrench set. Millimeter sockets go on the left side of the workbench. Inches go on the right. Why must I have two different sets anyway? Why can’t we all just get on the same page and work together?
Throughout my ministry, I’ve come to discover that spiritual conversions aren’t that easy either. We see dramatic examples throughout the pages of scripture – Saul, the ravenous persecutor of the church, becomes Paul, the model missionary and pastor. Tax collectors become disciples. Liars become honest men. Demon-possessed women become preachers and witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. But for the rest of us, conversion can be an uphill climb.
This week, we begin our journey into the season of Lent – a forty-day journey to the cross of Christ. Just as Jesus spent forty days in the desert being tempted by Satan or the Israelites spent forty years wandering in the desert, Christians will use these forty days to confront the many ways that we are tempted to stray from the path that leads to life.
For forty days, Lent provides an opportunity to hone in on the idea of conversion – the act of leaving one way of life to adopt a new one. Lent gives us forty days to take a long, hard look in the mirror and to confront the dual realities of who we are and who God is calling us to be.
I can’t help but wonder, though: what is the formula for converting selfishness to generosity? What is the formula for converting bitterness to forgiveness? Or despair to hope? Or legalism to grace? How do we go about converting fear to peace? Or apathy to compassion? Or hate to love? What is the formula for converting a life of sin into one of holiness? Brokenness to wholeness? Grief to joy?
I really wish that I had an easy answer. I wish that I could give you “three simple steps to a brand new you.” Jesus, however, just won’t cooperate with my own internal marketing department. Instead, he gives us this: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Lent teaches us that the only real formula for conversion is death – spiritually dying with Christ so that we may be reborn. Dying to old self, so that a new one can emerge. Dying to the flesh so that we may awaken to the spirit.
May you experience a holy Lent – a holy season of dying and letting go – so that you can make room for the Resurrection life that God is cultivating in you and preparing for the harvest to come.
Rev. Steven Norris